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Dr Natasha Tyler is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Manchester, funded by the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. When she wrote her successful fellowship application last year, she reached out to the NIHR Research Design Service North West for support and funding for involvement in writing her application.

Why I approached the RDS?

I have consistently involved patients and public in the work leading up to my fellowship application, but as an early career researcher, didn’t have the funds to meaningfully and fairly involve patients in the development of my fellowship research plans. I work closely with a service user researcher and wanted his insightful input into my fellowship application, but of course, wanted to pay for his contribution. I also sought the opinions of a wider group of patient and public contributors, it’s important that my research is meaningful to patients and that their opinions can shape the direction of my work.

Was it what I expected?

I didn’t expect that I would get a one-to-one meeting with an RDS advisor to discuss my project and PPIE plans and feedback on my PPIE activities from a public involvement reviewer, these were added bonuses and invaluable to strengthen my application.

What I gained from it?

I had confidence in my fellowship interview that any decisions I made were supported by service-users and that this was something of importance to them. As somebody who often suffers from imposter syndrome, I think this confidence was key to my successful interview and the PPIE was a particular strength of my application.

I applied for the same SPCR fellowship the previous year and referred to PPIE for past work in my interview, which was less successful. It was difficult to have confidence in my proposed methods/decisions or describe specific feedback, when the actual application being discussed had no input from patients and/ or members of the public, despite the preceding work having PPIE input.

Anything I found difficult?

The RDS reviewers asked for changes to my PPIE strategy that I hadn’t necessarily considered such as support before and after the meetings and equity of opportunity to participate in this public involvement activity. Although this resulted in reconsidering some of my PPIE strategy and making changes to my PPI plan, early feedback meant I was prepared for my interview and confident that my PPI stagey (for my application development) was in line with guidance and promoted inclusivity.

Tips for others

1. Get in touch early. Many fellowships applications have tight deadlines, so ideally, if you can, get in touch before the funding call is released if you know you are planning an application. There are numerous sequential stages involved with forms, meetings and feedback.

2. Think about meaningful PPIE activities that will strengthen your application and make your research more impactful for patients.

3. Ensure that the PPIE that you plan to support your application considers equity of opportunity, i.e. reach out as far as possible, how will you ensure that a diverse range of public contributors can participate? How will you enable representation in the advisory group and public involvement that addresses characteristics of the study population e.g. gender, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status etc.

4. Think about any areas of your proposed project that you might have less confidence in and seek feedback from public contributors on these, this could either result in meaningful improvements to your application or justification and confidence in your interview around the decisions you made.


The NIHR Research Design Service has regional centres across England. Everyone is welcome to ask their local centre for support when developing and writing a fellowship application to the NIHR School for Primary Care Research.